Frederick Kagan directs the "Critical Threats" project at the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute (AEI). A foreign policy hawk known for his work shaping the 2007 Iraq "surge," Kagan has authored a number of books and reports promoting long-term U.S. military intervention in the Middle East and elsewhere. Kagan's brother (Robert), father (Donald), and spouse (Kimberly) are also known for their militarist stances on U.S. foreign policy.
Relationship with Military Brass
Kagan and his spouse have been close advisers to U.S. generals serving in recent U.S. wars. These relationships have drawn scrutiny, particularly the relationship they had with General David Petraeus. According to a December 2012 Washington Post investigation, the Kagans visited Afghanistan repeatedly throughout Petraeus' tenure there, during which time they received extraordinary accommodations for civilian visitors—including near round-the-clock access to military and intelligence officials, top-level security clearance, and priority travel to anywhere in the country, as well as desks and military email accounts. In return, the Kagans advised Petraeus and penned supportive op-eds about the general and the war effort when they periodically returned home.
Although the Kagans did not receive compensation from the U.S. military for their advisory work, the Post noted that they continued to receive paychecks from their respective think tanks while they were advising Petraeus, prompting official investigations.
The Kagans' high-level access in Afghanistan created considerable consternation among some military leaders. In one incident, the Kagans apparently insinuated to field commanders in eastern Afghanistan that Petraeus wanted them to direct their energies toward combating the Haqqani network, despite the fact that Petraeus had not yet issued any such order. "It created huge confusion," said one. "Everyone knew the Kagans were close to Petraeus, so everyone assumed they were speaking for the boss."
The Post also suggested that many leaders were suspicious of the Kagans' role. "Some officers questioned whether they funneled confidential information to Republican politicians—the Kagans said they did not. Others worried that the couple was serving as in-house spies for Petraeus," it said. One colonel mused that "the situation was very, very weird. It's not how you run a headquarters."
At a $10,000-a-head dinner for Kimberly Kagan's Institute for the Study of War, Petraeus himself acknowledged his close relationship with the Kagans. "What the Kagans do is they grade my work on a daily basis," he said to laughs from ISW donors. "There's some suspicion that there's a hand up my back, and it makes my lips talk, and it's operated by one of the Doctors Kagan."
In 2009, Kagan and his wife were tagged to a serve on a controversial civilian "strategic assessment" team that was handpicked by Gen. Stanley McChrystal to provide advice on the course of the war in Afghanistan. Many critics pointed out, however, that the team was composed largely of people who agreed with McChrystal's policies, and that it merely served as a way to build public support—in opposition to the policy preferences of the Barack Obama administration—for a "surge" in Afghanistan. Other team members included Stephen Biddle of the Council on Foreign Relations, Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Andrew Exum of the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), and Jeremy Shapiro of the Brookings Institution.
In 2006 and 2007, Kagan played a similar role promoting and shaping the Iraq "surge." Kagan and retired Gen. Jack Keane led a team of analysts organized by AEI whose works led to the January 2007 publication of "Choosing Victory: A Plan for Success in Iraq," a report that served as fodder for Gen. David Petraeus' campaign to push for a military build up in Iraq despite growing public opposition to the war. The report argued that substantially increasing U.S. troop strength in Iraq was essential to avoid a defeat that could lead to "regional conflict, humanitarian catastrophe, and increased global terrorism." Among the plan's proposals: a "surge of seven Army brigades and Marine regiments to support clear-and-hold operations" beginning this spring, which would be aimed at securing "the Iraqi population and contain[ing] the rising violence"; lengthening the tours of ground troops and increasing deployments of National Guard forces; making a "dramatic increase in reconstruction aid for Iraq"; and mobilizing military industry "to provide replacement equipment" for troops.
The AEI study group, called the Iraq Planning Group, was widely seen as aimed at countering the influence of the similarly-named Iraq Study Group (ISG), an outside group of experts enlisted by the Bush administration in early 2006 to help resolve the growing problems with the Iraq war. The ISG, which was co-chaired by the realist-inclined former Secretary of State James Baker and former Rep. Lee Hamilton (D-IN), concluded in a long-awaited final report released in December 2006 that there was "no magic bullet" that could solve the debacle in Iraq. It argued that the United States needed to approach Iraq's neighbors, including Syria and Iran, as part of a "diplomatic offensive" aimed at easing tension in the region. And although it called for a short-term increase in the number of U.S. soldiers in Iraq, the increase would be largely devoted to training Iraqi soldiers, with the goal of bringing U.S. troops home by early 2008.
The Baker-Hamilton report seemed to provide impetus for the neoconservatives, whose influence in policy circles began spiraling as the war in Iraq steadily worsened. In late 2006, AEI announced the creation of its own study group, which was led by Kagan and retired Gen. Jack Keane. It also included about a dozen other AEI scholars (most notably Michael Rubin, Thomas Donnelly, Danielle Pletka, Gary Schmitt, and Reuel Marc Gerecht), as well several retired army officers and Michael Eisenstadt, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Its final report, authored by Kagan, was released with much fanfare at an AEU event on January 5, 2007. Among those speaking at the event were Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-CT), both closely associated with neoconservatives and former honorary co-chairs of the now-defunct Committee for the Liberation of Iraq.
Kagan frequently contributes op-eds to mainstream as well as neoconservative-leaning outlets advocating prolonged U.S. military engagements abroad. He commonly writes alongside his wife. "It's this simple. Either we keep the necessary number of troops in Afghanistan or operations against al-Qaeda and its affiliates in Afghanistan and Pakistan cease," they wrote for the Washington Post in \November 2012. The Kagans recommended keeping 68,000 troops in the country through 2014, and leaving at least 30,000 indefinitely thereafter.
In February 2013, shortly after President Obama announced plans to withdraw 34,000 troops that year, the Kagans took to the neoconservative Weekly Standard to criticize the plan as "unwise" and likely to increase "the risk that al Qaeda will be able to reestablish itself in limited safe havens in Afghanistan over time."
Kagan is also the author of numerous books. In April 2010, Kagan and coeditor Thomas Donnelly published Lessons for a Long War: How America Can Win on New Battlefields. According to an AEI ad, the edited volume provides advice on how the United States can effectively execute "Long Wars" in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, which it must remained committed to "as the guarantor of international security." It adds, "Thomas Donnelly, Frederick W. Kagan, and their coauthors offer several core lessons for success in the Long War. They argue that decentralizing command is the key to efficient operations on an ever-changing battlefield; that airpower is the unsung hero of counterinsurgency warfare; that public opinion can influence crucial military decisions; and that the military should minimize its role in domestic affairs. Finally, although the battlefields have changed over the last fifty years, the authors contend that America's long-held counterinsurgency strategy--to foster political support at home, employ diplomacy overseas, and extend military assistance to allies--remains effective."
In 2006 Kagan published Finding the Target: The Transformation of American Military Policy (Encounter Books, 2006). The book fills out an argument widely repeated by many neoconservatives, including most notably AEI's Joshua Muravchik, that many of the troubles plaguing the military during the Bush administration stemmed from efforts to "transform" the armed forces by shifting to high-tech weapons, an effort that was vociferously championed by an erstwhile friend of the neoconservatives, former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
In a review of the book for the New York Times, Barry Gewen wrote that Kagan "is concerned with distinguishing genuine transformations from false ones. In Finding the Target he argues that what the Rumsfeld Pentagon has proclaimed as a technological revolution in military affairs is no such thing, and that this fundamental misconception has produced the debacle that is the Iraq war." According to Gewen, "Kagan contends that the American military successfully transformed itself after the humiliation of Vietnam with the all-volunteer Army and upgradings of personnel and weapons, but then fell captive to dreams of dominance through technology alone, losing sight of the human component of warfare. . . . By concentrating on raw power, especially air power, to the exclusion of politics and culture, the Bush administration has courted disaster and defeat in a region it never took the trouble to understand. 'Of all the enemies that shock and awe might be effective against, Al Qaeda is absolutely not one,' Kagan writes; he goes on to explain: 'War is not about killing people and blowing things up. It is purposeful violence to achieve a political goal.' A military revolution that wasn't a revolution blinded Bush and Rumsfeld to this old-fashioned truth."
Kagan is also the coauthor with his father of While America Sleeps: Self-Delusion, Military Weakness, and the Threat to Peace Today (2000), which compares the United States at the end of the Cold War to post-World War I Great Britain, arguing that the United States is weak and vulnerable, and that it needs to greatly boost military spending. In a review of the book, University of Chicago scholar Bruce Cumings wrote: "The storm has been gathering for a decade, according to the Kagans, but in 1991 we failed to comprehend that we were at a critical turning point. ... It would indeed be one of the great ironies of modern times if 1991—the year the United States emerged from the Cold War as the only remaining superpower, outspending all conceivable adversaries combined on defense and launching an information revolution that would sweep the globe—was really the beginning of the end of American dominance. But the United States can still save itself, say the authors, if it spends more on defense and acquires loads of new weapons. This last message, which dominates the latter third of the book, seems to have been perfectly timed for the 2000 presidential campaign. ... There is one good thing about While America Sleeps: No one who reads it is going to run out and buy a flak jacket, teach kindergartners to 'duck and cover,' or restock a backyard bomb shelter. This is a book to assign to students who want to know what professors mean when they say 'a little history is a bad thing."
Also in 2000, Kagan participated in a study group organized by the Project for the New American Century, a neocon pressure group led by Robert Kagan and William Kristol that played an important role building public support for the invasion of Iraq. The 2000 study group produced Rebuilding America's Defenses, which foreshadowed many of the defense policies adopted by the administration of President George W. Bush. Kagan also contributed a chapter about the U.S. military for the PNAC volume Present Dangers (2000).